Burn It All Down

Diminishing Returns

Wow-64 2014-02-24 06-17-22-04 This morning I am feeling absolutely horrible.  My lungs have conspired to rebel against me again, and since there is a good chunk of weather on the way this weekend, I am hoping I can get it under control before then.  Yesterday the world was all a twitter about the blog post that Blizzard was going to release at 6 pm PST…  see what I did there?  Twitter was was full of speculations of what this news announcement might mean.  Some predicted the start of Warlords preorders, but eventually Rygarius the coffee bird eventually explained that it was going to be more of a roadmap type post.  With that I believe most of our fearless brits opted to get some sleep and just check it out in the morning.

At least I am really hoping that they ended up getting a good nights sleep, because what ended up posted really did not feel like it was worth staying up until 2 am for.  Don’t get me wrong I am not trying to disparage the blog post itself, but it was not the shock and awe that players were hoping for.  For me personally there were a few things that concerned me.  Firstly the tweaking of the Racial abilities.  I wholeheartedly agree that some racial perks are better than others… however many of us chose to PLAY those races for that reason.  When this goes love will they give everyone a free racial change for each character?  Some of the racial perks that I am personally most attached to are some of the fluff ones.  For example I am still reeling from the loss of Find Treasure on my dwarves…  but not sure how I would feel if we lost Explorer as well.  I mean I fully expect to lose Every Man for Himself, but I would hate to lose the fun traits in the process as well.

The part of the post that worries me the most however is the talk of crowd control.  It starts off with the statement “One other big takeaway from Mists of Pandaria is that there is currently simply too much crowd control (CC) in the game, especially when it comes to PvP.”.  Now are they only talking about removing CC for the purpose of PVP here?  Or is PVE once again getting the shaft for the sake of a game I have no interest in?  I have to say my favorite era of dungeon running was burning crusade, in part because crowd control was absolutely mandatory.  Even in tier 6 gear, you needed to CC or you would die.  The problem with that era however was that crowd control was not distributed equitably, and over the years each class has gotten some form of permanent or temporary crowd control.  Problem is the dungeon design has just not required doing anything other than smashing into objects with your face repeatedly.

My hope was with the return to Draenor, and the focus on heroics as a way to gear up for raiding…  that we would see a return to this more strategic era of dungeoning.  However if they feel that Pandaria had too much CC…  and by that I mean no one CC’d anything at all EVER…  it gives me great concern for what dungeons might look like going ahead.  Maybe I am coming off a bit half cocked here, since they did qualify the statement with PVP, but the diminishing returns changes would keep a fight like the PVP encounter in Crusaders Coliseum from really being viable in the future.  The one thing I did notice they left completely off the list of diminishing returns mentions…  taunt.  This was honestly the secret to us beating the crusaders coliseum fight, that the tanks would swap off taunting the hardest hitting mobs and kite them around.  A druid taunt, warrior taunt, deathknight taunt and paladin taunt all had unique diminishing returns stacks, so we could swap targets to keep them tied up.

Burn It All Down

As a programmer, I read these changes in a completely different light… because I have been them before.  When you get dropped into a situation where you have some severely outdated code, the knee jerk reaction is to burn everything to the ground and build it from scratch.  This reaction is in part because no one still exists that remembers why the code worked the way it did.  This is what this current phase of Blizzard development feels like.  No one remembers why they had hit and expertise and all these other things…  so lets just simplify everything and get rid of all things that are not strictly needed.  As a programmer I totally get this, because it feels like they are trying to minimize the variables that they have to deal with.

I figure at this point there has been a prodigious amount of turnover in the folks that are working day in and day out on World of Warcraft.  The guy that wrote this or that code is simply not around any longer to explain why exactly he named that variable “Football” when it is just passing data around.  My fear is that in this minimalistic approach we are going to lose some of the things that make Warcraft feel like Warcraft.  I am trying my best not to fall into “change is bad” mode, but in many ways the sequence of changes feels like knocking down a 300 year old building, to put up a mini-mart.  Maybe I will be wrong, and maybe the end result will feel fresh and shiny… in the same way that Diablo 3 2.0 has felt for me.  At this point… you can just file all of this in a bin called “concerns”.

Fun With Demons

Diablo III 2014-02-27 19-29-26-32 Last night my friends and I continued our trek through the demon infested realm of Diablo 3.  The big thing we have noticed is that the game gives players insane catch up experience when the level ranges are not even.  This accounts for how I went from 37 to 50 in a night, because most of the players were significantly higher level than that.  Last night the experience curve flattened significantly, so during the course of the evening I managed to go from 50 to 58 before I just felt too lousy to continue.  As a result however I am knocking at the door of 60 and have no doubts that I will finish off leveling my monk before the expansion.  Granted most of this weekend will be spent in Tamriel playing with the multitude of folks who are getting in for the weekend test.

Diablo III 2014-02-27 22-13-29-27 We managed to get a second puzzle ring, so for most of the evening both myself and my friend Warenwolf were running around with our treasure goblin pets.  We managed to get a ton of legendaries, but oddly enough I got three different versions of the same item… the Saffron Wrap.  Apparently the game thinks I need a lot of belts… maybe it knows that I actually only have one in real life… that I keep punching new holes in as I lose weight.  The score of the night came from when we beat Belial.  There were several points through the night where we learned just how impressive “ignores durability loss” can be, as we took a number of chain deaths to freezing, poison bomberman, electrical orb mobs.  The sad part of the evening however is that I no longer have my ghostly fallen champion pet, because I reached the point where I absolutely had to upgrade out of that axe.

The Final Factoid

Well as I was reminded by my wife, today is the final factoid.  I have somehow made it through an entire month of writing these.  As a result I think it is fitting that I close this factoid off with one relating to the purpose of this entire month.  I do not like writing about myself, at least I do not like talking about personal details.  Talking about gaming is a space of comfort for me, and I have no problem discussing me the gamer…  but I always shy away from talking about me the person behind the screen.  I guess in a way I feel like what I have to say about myself is pretty boring, and the more people know about me…  the more likely they are to reject me as a friend.  I grew up as an “only child”, and we lived just far enough out of the city limits to greatly limit the number of kids I had to play.

For years I craved having someone else to be there and play with, and that craving has carried through to my gaming life.  I end up trying to collect people into my little digital family.  I have deep anti-social tendencies that I struggle with, but online I can have just as much interaction with someone as I want, but then still be able to shut down the game, or twitter and walk away and have seclusion time as well.  2013 was a year of great personal growth for me.  I completed NaNoWriMo, started the daily blogging thing and ended up losing 70 pounds.  In a way Factoid February was a way of trying to get used to opening up and talking more about myself and my life in my blog.  For the most part I think it has worked, and I did manage to complete the month writing something new each day.  There were times I had to sit and think for quite a bit before deciding what to write about, but I struggled through.

The odd thing is… it seems as though people have enjoyed it.  Looking through the blog statistics, it seems as though my average daily readership has increased a bit during the month of February.  I am not sure if this is in part because I am writing more personally… or if I have just gotten more exposure thanks to the amazing folks who regularly retweet me like @RowanBlaze and @AlternativeChat.  It gives me huge fuzzies when I see people are reading what I have written, but I have to say at this point… even if I had zero readers I would likely keep doing whatever it is I am doing.  I find the process of waking up in the morning and dumping my thoughts onto the page while drinking my coffee amazingly therapeutic.  On the weekends when I am forced to vary my schedule a bit, the day just does not seem entirely right… until I have done my blog purge.  I want to thank all of you for coming along with me on this journey.  Not entirely certain where I am going next, maybe more features…  maybe more of the same, but I appreciate that you all are on the ride with me.

Everything You Loved, Just Better

The Beauty of a Patch

Diablo III 2014-02-26 18-50-24-23 This past Tuesday we finally got the ever amazing patch 2.0.1 in Diablo 3 bringing us a slew of promised Reaper of Souls changes.  The first of these was something that I had yearned for since release…  a decent social system with the ability to form guilds.  While they call them clans, we have the basic structure now to build House Stalwart inside of Diablo 3 as well.  This was one of the first things we did Tuesday after the servers came back up, and now many of us proudly sport the <HS> beside our names.  It is funny how much more enjoyable the game is for me to see happy green spam from my guildies as they get cool stuff out in the world.  That second it takes to say the obligatory gratz changes the feeling of the game entirely for me.

Additionally there is now a functionality called Communities, which are in a sense a big chat channel.  It functions in many of the same ways as a guild, in that you can see who is online that is a member of the community for easier grouping.  My only real complaint here is that you have to manually join the community chat each time you log in.  I am really hoping they fix this so that you can toggle certain communities on.  Tuesday night we also created the Alliance of Awesome community, and it is now out there open for the public to join.  We have a few people in it, and last night I noticed that Scopique created a Combat Wombat guild, since he was sporting the <CWBT> clan tag.  So the functionality seems to be working well, sub clans but one big community.

Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys

Diablo III 2014-02-26 20-25-36-15One of the biggest changes we have seen so far is that the loot is much better.  Not only do we get more usable loot, with far more interesting statistics, but since the patch went live we are seeing more “legendaries”.  Last night I found what has to be the coolest one yet.  The Puzzle Ring, when equipped summons a treasure goblin pet that follows you around.  As you kill things he runs over and “eats” any white quality items that happen to drop.  Upon eating the thirteenth item in this fashion he drops something good on the ground.  I only had this actually happen twice during the play, but each time it was simply a yellow item.  However as the item says there is a chance of this being a legendary.  At this point I cannot see a reason why I would ever get rid of this ring.  I mean even if I got something significantly better stat wise, the effect and the coolness of having my own personal treasure goblin makes up for it.  The only problem is when we fight an ACTUAL treasure goblin, I maybe… sometimes… get confused and try and attack the pet instead of the real thing.

Diablo III 2014-02-26 20-49-29-45 So the puzzle ring was amazing, but the cavalcade of awesome didn’t stop there.  A little bit later after downing the butcher, I managed to get a legendary one-hander to drop.  Now just stats alone, it was better than anything I had…  but once again it is the special effect that makes it truly great.  While using this weapon there is a chance to summon a ghostly Fallen Champion, and while I don’t have any stats on this… it happens a lot.  It took us a bit to realize exactly what was happening, but my ghostly buddy seemed to help speed up our kills significantly.  At this point I have managed to pick up better damage weapons, but I am rocking this is my offhand just for the procs… which seem to make up the gap.  At some point I will pass this off to my Barbarian or Crusader, because it really is rather good. 

Everything You Loved, Just Better

Diablo III 2014-02-26 22-44-30-56 So last night I spent most of the night running around in either a three man or a four man group.  I don’t even know what difficulty we were playing on, but I know we ratcheted up a few times from normal.  Around 7 pm I was sitting at 37, and at 10:30 when we stopped playing I had just dinged 50.  The experience gain for grouping has significantly improved, and if we do another night of this I have no doubt that I will get my first Diablo 3 character to the present level cap.  A few months ago… I was deeply uncertain if this would happen before the expansion actually landed.  Everything about Diablo 3 just feels “fresher”, like the world has a shiny coat of paint… and in part this is the magic of finally getting meaningful drops.  Also there is the side benefit that the crafting system finally makes a marginal amount of sense.  So many things have been tweaked to make far more sense… like condensing all the flavors of heal pot into one… and making them stack to 100.

I still dislike click to move as a control scheme, but it feels as though the hours I have spent playing League of Legends has improved my dexterity at doing so.  While I still die a lot to standing in the stupid…. and man we got some seriously bad combinations of stupid at the same time…  there seems to be a far greater chance that I will come through it all successfully.  There were a few times last night where I ended up kiting mobs around when I was by myself, and were not for the little bit of experience I have laning in LoL… I never would have survived.  Granted I am still pretty freaking horrible at laning, but it has made me a much better Diablo player just in the bit I have done.  Hopefully tonight we can push our little team of characters to 60 and start gaining some Paragon levels.

Belghast the Altar Boy

I was raised Catholic in a very protestant area of the world, and this was an area for confusion during most of my childhood.  I still remember one day in elementary school one of the southern Baptist children coming up to me and asking me “why I don’t believe in god”.  Idiocy like that aside, I have never been very “religious” and at this point I am not a practicing anything.  I can’t even attest to having something that you could quantify as a formal doctrine of beliefs…  I mostly just spend my time trying to be a good person… and winging it.  However as any good catholic should be… I was an Altar Boy.  No this is not the beginning of a priest sex abuse tale, because really my priest was one of the coolest people I have ever known.  He would probably be classified as a heretic, but he was the first person that told me it was okay to question  my beliefs.

The funny thing about being an Altar Boy is that forever will it color the way you feel about the heart of the Catholic church… the Mass.  Before they started with the incense crap recently, forcing to simply not attend Christmas Eve Mass… I did so every year to appease my mother…  who refuses to believe that I am not a “good little catholic boy”.  Even to this day, I can hear certain phrases in the Mass, and immediately feel the instinct to do something… like walk over to pick up this thing, or move to this area of the altar.  As an Altar Boy you learn this oddly choreographed dance to prove the priest whatever he needs before he actually needs it.  I use the term “Altar Boy” but in truth our parish was pretty progressive and had plenty of “Altar Girls” as well.  The priest claimed that we simply didn’t have enough people, but in truth I think he just enjoyed shaking things up a bit.

I really don’t miss much about being a practicing Catholic.  We were a satellite parish attached to a significantly larger one, and as such we shared the same priest.  So each Sunday morning at 7 am he would come to our church, perform mass and then return to do the several masses there as well throughout the day.  Seven in the morning seemed like the ass crack of dawn to me as a kid, and while I write each morning at 6 am… it doesn’t mean I am actually fully verbal until about 9.  I do however miss the priest, he has long since retired but he really was a deeply interesting man.  Once upon a time in another life he was a fairly successful commercial artist, working for an advertising agency.  For reasons I never asked him, he decided to give that life up and enter the priesthood.  I always got the impression there was quite a bit of sex, drugs and rock and roll… and he just tired of the life and wanted something more meaningful.  So much of my outlook on life comes from this man being the first person who told me that religion was a deeply personal thing, and it was natural and in fact encouraged for me to question things and figure out my own path.

Playing With Dolls

Goodbye to Justice

Yesterday the ever amazing Qelric posted an interesting video surmising that Justice and Valor points may be on the way out.  This of course was a conclusion drawn based on various tidbits of information that has been released over the last few days.  I don’t think Blizzard is terribly happy with the current Justice/Valor situation, but in truth I think this is mostly because over the last couple of expansions they have lost sight on why it existed in the first place.  The pinnacle of the system “working as intended” I feel arrived during Wrath of the Lich King.  At that point if you were completely unlucky in getting the right dungeon drops, you could save up and eventually buy even set pieces with this “consolation currency”.

Sure it also modified how we viewed gear, since only certain pieces could be bought with valor but generally speaking you could get a two piece bonus with the current tier without actually having to rely on raid drops.  I did not play much during the cataclysm era, so I cannot really recall how the system worked then, but during Pandaria it has changed into something mostly useless.  The gear you can get with Valor is a much watered down version of what you can get through even the latest tier of LFR.  As a result Valor has become a currency almost exclusively reserved for spending on item upgrades.  So quite honestly… I don’t think the valor/item upgrade system is really working as intended either.

I feel like right now Blizzard is going through a lot of growing pains, in part due to the fact that there has been a fairly constant changing of the guards when it comes to decision making.  I feel like we are seeing a classic case of “I don’t know what the original intent was, so lets just get rid of it.”  As a programmer I completely understand this, since if you look at some code and you cannot fully grasp what is going on, the instinct is just to gut it and replace it with something that does make sense to you.  As a result we are seeing a lot of these “re-writes” going on, tanking stats not working the way we want them… lets get rid of them.  Juctice/Valor mutated in purpose over the last few expansions… well lets get rid of that too.  I feel Justice points used to fill a niche that was highly needed in the game, so my hope is that we can return to the way things worked during Wrath.

Massive ESO Beta Weekend

eso 2014-02-17 13-53-20-16 For those who do not know already, this weekend there will be another massive beta test weekend over in The Elder Scrolls Online.  They have also announced that by participating in the testing you will be eligible for an in game Monkey pet at release.  Millions of beta keys have been sent out at this point, and most of them came with a buddy key attached.  So hopefully all of you that are reading this will be in this weekends testing.  I have my public beta client tested up and will be popping in to hang out with you all.  If you are playing this weekend feel free to throw @Belghast a friend invite.  You can do friends lists in two ways, either you can friend a specific character or you can friend the root account identifier.  They follow twitter like syntax so prepend all account invites with the @ symbol.

I believe that weekend testers will be able to see first hand the new starter experience, as well as the new collision detection.  This is something that had been in the works for awhile, but since it had also been a major weekend test complaint they were able to get the collision detection in before launch.  Essentially now you can no longer run through NPCs, enemies and other players in PVE settings.  This has been disabled for PVP however since managing collision detection with hundreds of players in the same area becomes problematic.  Additionally and some of my readers will appreciate it, what were essentially Midi tracks have been replaced with the full orchestral equivalents.  The game feels and sounds amazing.

I have a spare buddy key that I would love it to go to one of my readers.  So if you are interested in testing this weekend, and do not mind downloading a roughly 30 gig beta client…  post in the comments and we will figure out a way to get you the key.  I think most everyone I know already has access to this test, and I look forward to seeing them all over the weekend.

Playing With Dolls

Yesterday my good friend @Gypsy_Syl posted the above video to twitter in response to another friend.  Without really meaning to, she helped to pick out today’s factoid.  As a kid I played with dolls, in fact I owned a Barbie and a Ken doll and eventually down the line a Cabbage Patch doll as well.  I am thankful that my father didn’t make a big deal about it, and I obviously grew up no more scarred than any other kid is by their childhood choices.  In part a good chunk of it is likely that I was “mostly” raised by women.  My mom and dad were busy working all of the time, so my caretaker and playmate was my Grandmother, where I spent most of my early years.  Next door there was a little neighbor girl, that became my best friend and constant companion.

So instead of forcing the issue and playing Gi-Joe or Star Wars, I just went with the flow and played whatever she wanted to play.  While Crystal was not really a “doll” type, my cousin most definitely was.  So I can remember playing barbies and strawberry shortcake and whatever else she wanted to play.  At this young age I just got used to relating to women, and even today I am far more comfortable in the kitchen come holiday time than sitting around the living room having to pretend to know anything at all about sports.  While I am 6’4” and have a mountain man beard and can generally pass as one… I am most definitely not the “manly man” archetype.  So when it comes to long-term friendships, I tend to flock to either women or other guys like me that are not drenched in an overabundance of testosterone.

One of the things that frustrates me is that gender is associated with toys in the first place.  The whole topic of boys playing with dolls started when another friend, @MMOGC mentioned that it was impossible to find pictures of girls playing with train sets.  I have encountered the problem myself when dealing with Lego sets.  It is damned near impossible to find Lego sets that include female minifigs.  My niece has decided she is into lego, and while she is a huge fan of the “Friends” line of mutant minfigures… I am trying to also provide as many cool normal minifigs as I can in the process.  While they exist freely in the minifigures packs, it is almost impossible to buy a Lego City set and see a woman performing any role there.  Why can’t there be Women Fire Fighters or Police or hell… even Sanitation workers?  Somewhere over the years it was decided apparently that Lego was a “boy toy”, and while there are “pink” Legos, they simply do not have the same variety as the normal kind.  However I am still going to do my best to support the habit of building and creating things, even if it means the really cool stuff is harder to find.

Rise of the Trade Cartel

Starter Islands Optional

eso 2014-02-15 11-38-45-72 I hinted about this yesterday, but I have since checked in on the NDA and everything is cool to talk about.  Currently up on test is a number of changes to designed to improve the game play experience for those who felt that it was simply too “tutorial” for too long.  It would not be an Elder Scrolls game were it not for a prison sequence introduction.  So you still spend your few moments in Cold Harbor but instead of being deposited on a “starter island” you are deposited in the city of Daggerfall, Davon’s Watch or Skywatch depending on your faction.  Once again I use the term “starter island” but each faction has a slightly different setup.  In this city you have the option of starting quests there, venturing out into the country side to kill random stuff or going back to the docks and returning to the starter island experience.

The end result definitely feels more like a traditional Elder Scrolls experience, as when you exit the prison introduction you are usually dumped out to decide your own fate.  I will also say however that fending for yourself in Daggerfall for example, is significantly more difficult than working your way through Stros M’Kai.  I worked my way through a series of the city quests, but several of them were rather difficult considering at this point you really do not have much by way of gear having just finished Cold Harbor.  I will likely always do the Starter Islands, because I really like the experience… but for those players who were expecting a much more “manifest destiny” experience the way is now open.

I have to caveat all of this with “subject to change”, because this is still on the test servers and nothing that we are seeing is absolutely guaranteed to happen.  However the complaint about the on rails beginning has been a constant thread throughout the various tests I have participated in.  Zenimax is taking this criticism to heart and tweaking the game as a result.  Really they have been extremely responsive to critique, and I’ve watched as a number of things have changed based on tester input.  They do have a few holy grails that I wish they would abandon, but most of these are fixable with addons.  I am not a huge fan of minimalistic user interfaces, so I know I will be modding the crap out of mine to display more information more clearly.

The Market Economy

eso 2014-02-17 13-38-43-90 I recently watched the latest of Beau Hindman’s series of Gamer Hangouts in which the show focused on Elder Scrolls Online.  Actually he had asked if I wanted to join in, but since I do not have a webcam I opted out… something that should be resolved this week.  One of the big concerns late in the show was what exactly the player driven economy would look like.  While I am not auction house wizard, and I generally only have enough gold to keep my armor repaired…  I can already see that Elder Scrolls as a whole is going to have a very craft centric economy.  Firstly this game has probably the most detailed crafting system I have seen anywhere.  This is primarily due to the heavy research component in the game.  While Maevrim talked a bit about enchanting in the video, the bulk of my experience is with Blacksmithing.

As you move about the world you will get various dropped items, sometimes these items include a trait.  For example you might get a dropped axe with the word “Precise” on it that means it increases melee and spell critical.  Now you can deconstruct every item in the game for raw materials, and this is going to be key for getting some of the rarer crafting components, however there is a special kind of deconstruction you can do called research.  This allows you to learn the trait from the item, and it takes a significant amount of time…  namely the first trait you research for each weapon type takes a minimum of 5 hours, and increases from there.  Since traits are unique to a weapon type, and there are currently eight for each type… it takes an extremely long amount of time to learn them all.

What this means is that by nature crafters will be forced to specialize, working on learning the traits that matter the most to them… or if they are purely motivated by profit… learning the ones that players want the most.  So I fully expect to see people advertising themselves as a master axe-smith, or a master sword-smith… instead of a general purpose smith.  Granted the game does not distinguish between the two, and given enough time and resources the same person could learn every single trait in the game.  Additionally each player starts off crafting only their own racial style, but through the acquisition of dropped books they can learn to craft items in any style available.  So basically the ability to craft specific items with a specific stat is predictable… but requires a huge amount of work on the crafters part.

What makes the system even more interesting is that the best gear can only be crafted in certain places.  I talked about this awhile back, but this also factors into the economy.  Essentially players will likely be paying that master sword smith to go with them to some forgotten crafting station so that they can have crafted the best item for their specific chosen build.  Additionally since you can improve a crafted item from white to green, blue, purple or orange quality, I imagine there will be a brisk trade in the reagents needed for that.  Trying to improve an item with limited resources gives you a very slim chance of success… and if you fail you end up destroying your shiny new bauble in the process.  As a result players at the end of game will be wanting to make sure they pour enough of these reagents into every attempt to give them the highest chance of success.  These reagents are likely going to be among the most frequently traded items, and folks who farm them will likely be a pillar of the player driven economy.

Rise of the Trade Cartel

eso 2014-02-17 13-38-31-15 One of the more interesting things of note about Elder Scrolls is that as far as I know there is no Auction House system.  What they do have instead is an interesting system called the Guild Store.  Once you have at least 10 members (someone correct me if I am wrong on the number) you can start to list things to sell to your guild members.  Since guilds are account based, and you can be in multiple (current limit is 5 guilds) I have a feeling that we will be seeing a whole new kind of player driven economy.  I fully expect we will see a rise of large Trade Cartel guilds that allow players access to a larger marketplace to sell their wares.  This is a different line of thinking on how an economy should work, since these trade guilds would essentially be part tradechat and part auction house rolled into one.

I also feel like similar to games without auction house systems, we will see players congregating in cities offering up their wares.  This happened in Everquest and most recently I saw this happening a lot with crafters in Final Fantasy XIV.  Since gear is so granular and specific to however a player chooses to build their character, I really don’t see a huge market for “premade” items.  I think the real money will be made doing custom order crafting, and these trade cartels will be the way to find crafters for those purposes.  In every game I there have existed various groups that colluded to control segments of the economy… so it will be interesting to see exactly how this plays out in a game that supports entirely player driven markets.  I don’t really have the knack for this sort of thing, but I do hope I have some friends that do, because it will be interesting to see played out.

Of Bel and Grudges

Today’s factoid came to me in an interesting fashion last night.  I had been playing Belganon my little Warlock, and was just about to shut down for the night when I saw a shout from a player name I recognized.  He was trying to get people to run all nine challenge modes in one night for the purpose of getting gold in each.  His message was a little oddly worded, and while I doubt he intended it… it sounded a bit like he was wanting to be carried through them.  Granted my personal feelings towards the individual likely colored my interpretation.  Thing is, once upon a time I raided with him in Vanilla, and while I thought he was a bit of a jerk…  I always figured he was just mostly misunderstood.  When he came back to our server during Wrath of the Lich King, he joined one of the uber guilds at the time…  but since he was not well enough geared to raid with them, he pestered me for an invite to Duranub Raiding Company.  During the middle of the raid, he was talking in a social channel about us… and said that he was slumming with us until he could get a real raid.

I punted him from the raid and have not talked to him since.  He desperately tried to back pedal in tells, but the damage was already done… he was worthless to me.  Just seeing his name come across chat brought up this boiling cauldron of anger.  I still hold a grudge against him for his actions, and while he may have matured or changed… I will never know, because I will never give him another chance.  The weird thing is…  had he just done something that was only against me…  I would likely be waiting to forgive him over and over.  When you do something however that negatively effects a person or group of people that I care about…  my protective instincts kick in and I will forever hold a grudge over it.  I realize this is not a healthy behavior, but it is just something I have never been able to let go of.  So I have a catalog of people that have wronged my guild or my friends, and every time I see that name or someone mentions one of them this flood of anger washes over me that I have to force back down.  So while I cannot seem to root this instinct out of me…  I can do my best not to act upon it. 

Bad Warlock

Vampire Wife

bloodspatter For awhile I have talked about my rockstar teacher of a wife and the forensics class she is pioneering with another teacher this year.  Yesterday I got drafted into helping her make various kinds of fake blood.  Essentially we needed to find a ready simulacrum for the real thing, that could be produced cheaply and efficiently.  So for awhile yesterday I kitchen turned a little horror show.  I was employed in the mixing part, since I could shake the bottles fast enough to get them to mix.  This is my preferred way of mixing almost anything, including the constant flow of cherry pomegranate drink mix that I imbibe.  Some of the mixtures were winners and some were very much not.

Of the various recipes available we tried three primarily.  The first one I had experience with in the past, and I didn’t think it would be the kind of blood she was wanting.  I used to work in a fundraiser haunted house and we mixed buckets of water, karo syrup and red food coloring to make gore to slop on everything.  This of course is way thicker than human blood and as a result doesn’t perform in any way similar.  Next we tried a mixture of sweet condensed milk, and red food coloring.  This was a little better but still way too thick, but it was a big grizzly to watch my wife eat spoonfuls of the red ichor.  Apparently she thought it tasted good.

The final winner was evaporated milk and red food coloring.  Granted all of these produced pinkish blood but apparently adding a little bit of green will correct the color.  She tested the products against a vial of simulated lab blood that she got from a forensics supply house and the evaporated milk performed similarly.  Today over lunch  I have an errand to go pick up a pint of fake blood from a local party store.  We had tried this earlier but the only place that had it was in gallon size… and extremely expensive.  We wanted to test it out before committing to buying it in bulk.  My hope is that the premade stuff will be best so we don’t have to mix anymore at home.  But at the very least it lead to an interesting evening.

Bad Warlock

Wow-64 2014-02-24 06-17-22-04 Among other things, lately I have been poking my head onto my little Dwarven Warlock a bit.  I am still phenomenally bad at playing casters, and the warlock is no exception.  However having a Felguard makes up for a lot of my own mistakes.  He just quietly kicks everything’s ass while I flail around trying to mash the correct buttons.  Something I find interesting, is that in the past I have tried my best to skip outlands entirely… I am actually enjoying the content.  Maybe it is the idea that I know I will be revisiting everything in Warlords, but the entire expansion somehow feels fresher.  I have a feeling with this guy that it will be Wrath that becomes pure skull drudgery.

I am not really sure I landed on this character to level, after all I have both a Discipline Priest and a Hunter within striking distance of 90.  Ultimately I would still like to get everything up to 90 before Warlords but my Mage.  The mage is my intended boost target, because while I struggle playing a Warlock, I would be an absolute disaster playing a Mage.  Characters that can be described as “glass cannons” have never appealed to me in the least.  However I hear that frost provides a much sturdier alternative, given that they now have a permanent pet to watch after them.  To say the least I have been enjoying being bad at warlocking.

Interesting Changes a Brewing

eso 2014-02-23 12-41-25-63 I am honestly not sure how much of this I can talk about, so I will have to get some clarification on the NDA I am presently under before delving into it too deeply.  However I will say that there are some significant changes in the starter experience in the works that will hopefully make a lot of people happy.  One of the big complaints from the various test weekends is that it feels too on rails for too long.  While I said you can hop off the rails at any point you like and level away.  I have done a fair bit of my leveling by just killing random mobs out in the world and mostly ignoring the quests, it still feels like you are lead down a slowly widening tunnel until finally at some point you get dumped into what is the “real” game for the rest of the 50 levels.  One thing I have to say is that overall… the Zenimax folks have been extremely responsive to feedback.

That is one of the aspects of this testing process that most people just won’t understand.  The game has changed a lot over the last year, and for the better.  While there are features missing that I would have liked to see, almost all of those are User Interface based and have been successfully added back into the game with addons.  The core game itself is extremely clean, and if you play the game on a server that is not screaming because they are purposefully stressing it to the maximum… the game performs admirably and combat feels great.  The negative is a lot of the clunky combat comments that people have are during weekends where they are purposefully trying to break the systems, and combat fluidity decreases under extremely stressed situations.

I think a lot of people are going to be happy with the proposed changes.  I however have been in the minority and felt that the starter island experience for each of the races was an extremely good experience.  Each of the islands, and I use that term loosely since each faction starts slightly differently…  is chock full of interesting things to find and quests that you would not receive if you did not go out and explore off the beaten path.  I still cannot say with any certainty that I have ever gotten 100% of the content on any one of the islands, let alone all of them.  But I can understand the complaint that it just doesn’t feel Elder Scrollsy to exit the prison sequence and be dumped into another controlled setting.  Cold Harbor does a good job of teaching you the basics, and a prison intro is one of the key requirements of “being an Elder Scrolls Game”.

Belghast the Band Geek

The title pretty much says it all, I was a band geek.  For those not familiar with the American education system, the term Middle School refers generally to grades six through eight, and is some what of a transition period to get students used to having specific classes with different teachers, rather than a single teacher doing everything.  As part of this time period we were essentially funneled towards various electives.  During that sixth grade year we had to take a number of elective classes including vocal and instrumental music.  While I did manage to get a lead role in one of the musicals… which I did horribly at, I was far more comfortable behind an instrument in a much larger group.

trombone I began my musical career, if you can call it that.. playing the trombone, because face it… trombones are cool.  I did well enough to be second chair, and I was fine there… good enough to be recognized as being decent, without having to deal with the pressure of leading the section.  This was fine and good until I had a major sinus surgery in seventh grade, and buzzing sound needed to play trombone was something the doctor said would be extremely painful for me for quite some time.  As a result I ended up transitioning to the percussion section.  To be honest… I had always wanted to be a drummer, but my mother played percussion in high school and told me that by far the short end of the stick as far as band goes.  I should have listened, but of course I was smarter and knew better.

marchingcymbals She was absolutely right…  when you march a several mile parade route with a woodwind or a brass instrument you spend most of the time carrying it by your side.  If you march as a drummer, you end up playing a cadence non-stop the entire route.  Being a big guy, I somehow ended up being picked to play the cymbals during parades.  Sure you are thinking… cymbals are a joke of an instrument…  but imagine marching for miles while carrying a 20 pound cymbal in each hand… attached by a leather thong that makes it impossible to get a good grip on it.  Then having to bang them together… all the while not dropping the beat of the cadence.  It was absolute hell, and by the end of a parade route like that I literally could not feel my arms for hours.

Timpani Luckily however parade routes like that were few and far between, and namely during the Christmas season only.  After coming back from Christmas break I finally got to have some fun.  It began concert season and somehow I managed to get picked to play the Timpani drums.  I loved the sound of them, and it felt so primal to bang on them with my tiny felt donut covered sticks.  This was the part of band that I really enjoyed.  I finally felt like I had a real purpose.  I got good at tuning the Timpani drum, and as we did the various contests that came with concert season I became a critical part of the setup crew.  Some kids are truly gifted in band, but I did just good enough to be respectable without ever really shining.  I managed to make all district several times, but never really pushed hard enough to make all state.  While I played drums for a few bands, I never really kept with it… apart from occasionally drumming on my steering wheel while driving.

Eternal Pessimist

The Sick Kid

Growing up I was that kid that was sick all of the time.  During my elementary School Years it was a rarity that I was not in the doctors office at least once a week with something.  In part this was completely legitimate, because I was born without a fully functioning immune system.  Basically to put it simply I have a “lazy immune system” meaning that it takes a really long time before my body reacts to things it should be reacting to.  It is like that kid that hosts a party, then realizes way too late that shit is going to get out of control.  Then at that point, he can’t kick everyone out without calling the cops.  In this analogy the cops are antibiotics, of which I know by name and color and even oddly enough I associate some of them with their taste.

On top of this I also have pretty severe asthma, but I grew up in a household where no bruise was just a bruise…  it might after all be the early stages of Necrotizing fasciitis.  My mother tends to be quite a bit of a hypochondriac, and as such passed along some of those traits to me.  My wife finds it funny, because I always go into a situation expecting the worse.  The problem is…  because I grew up in a doctors office, I have developed a severe hatred of going to the doctor.  So instead I deal with it until I absolutely cannot any longer, in part because I always fear it is going to be worse than it actually is.  In the end I am always relieved when I am not really dying of some dread disease… but getting me to actually go to the doctor to get that relief is extremely difficult.

Eternal Pessimist

Part of asthma is knowing when it medicate yourself to stave off things from getting worse.  I have a full arsenal of tools at my disposal to keep my lungs from going into a complete state of lockdown.  The problem is, I try and apply this same logic to everything else.  I always keep an arsenal of over the counter medications at my disposal and there rarely is a day where I am not taking something.  So I am an odd mix of actually being sick, but also making it far worse than it actually is.  For the most part on a day to day basis I am fairly healthy, but I am always looking for the next illness waiting around the corner.  I guess as a eternal pessimist I am always looking for the worst thing to happen, and then confused when it didn’t.

As a programmer expecting the worst is a really useful survival trait.  It means I always have a backup plan for when the shit hits the fan.  So this instinct of expecting the worst has been a really successful trait in my day to day working life.  The problem is in my personal life and my health especially it is not the best thing.  I am thankful I have a wife that calls me out on my shit, more often than not.  The only problem is, since I cry wolf so often…  it can be hard to get the severity of something across.  When I had my bathroom bleed out moment… since she is so used to me cutting myself on this thing or the other… she didn’t grasp the severity immediately as I stood there blood spilling out on the bathroom floor.  I am working on trying to freak out less about non-consequential things… so that the big ones actually are meaningful.  I am pretty prone to panic attacks, but they are getting better… as I learn to calm the hell down.

Farcry 3: BLood Dragon

Steampowered Sunday #6

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-10-19-77 A few weeks back I did Steampowered Sunday over Far Cry 3, and thanks to the frustrations of dealing with UPlay I didn’t really give it that stellar of a rating.  The forced stealth play just was not my thing, but one resounding chorus from folks responding to the post was…  play Blood Dragon instead.  From the moment I saw the artwork for the title… I knew I would love it, because I am an unrepentant child of the 80s.  Everything about the game artwork alone screams 1980’s arcade cabinet artwork.  Hand drawn polygon landscapes were a thing that became insanely popular in the post War Games sequence of games.  We all wanted to be part of cyberspace in one way or another… even though at the time this was a largely fictional destination.  Which leads to the question…  did William Gibson predict the future in Neuromancer… or did we just build his future because of our love for it.  That however is a topic for a completely different day.

All the Movies Rolled Into One

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-08-52-77 This game is in every way a love song for not only the video games of the 1980s but the movies as well.  You start off with a minigun raid on a base form a Helicopter, while Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” plays on the stereo… a song that featured heavily in the pinnacle of 80s scifi action movies… Predator.  It just keeps getting better from there.  If you took Robocop, Universal Soldier, Ultraforce, and dumped them in a blender with Bad Dudes, Shinobi, and Duke Nukem…  you might come close to creating a game like this.  The visuals seem like a 1980s movie arcade scene vomited its magenta and red neon all over your screen.  I could pick apart the picture above and name a dozen different movie and video game references in this one shot alone.

The Music is So Authentic

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-35-53-80 The visuals would not be enough to deliver the feeling of travelling back in time… but the music is really where the game scores 110%.  Listening to the insane synths gave me flash backs of so many separate movies at once.  I mean you could take this game as making fun of all the absolutely over the topness that was the 1980s, but instead they chose to make it some sort of a time capsule.  For someone who lived through all of this, it is like a really crazy trip down memory lane.  I had moments where I remembered the first time I watched Terminator, the first time I caught Highlander on HBO, the first time I watched Big Trouble In Little China… and Escape from New York.  While none of it really is some kind of clone of the original tracks that obviously inspired it… it has the same feeling of sonic dissonance, driving drum machines and power chords.

Neon Archery Should Be A Thing

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-55-33-41 The weapons not only look great, but they are really functional.  There is a sequence not far from the start of the game where like every 80s movie… you are captured and stripped of all of your weapons.  Your fearless hero that has named Captain Rex Colt Power…  has to get by with nothing but a bow and the ability to use the environmental behemoths… the Blood Dragons to take down a base.  Sure the Blood Dragons do a lot of heavy lifting, but I feel like some sort of Neon Green Arrow as I headshot the guards with a bow.  Firstly…  I would wonder how the hell I could sneak around with glowing arms, and massively glowing weapons.  However since everything in this world seems to glow… I am guessing also glowing is a form of camouflage?   Whatever the reasoning behind it, things look badass.  I mean as a child of the 80s… making something glow neon and putting skulls and spikes on it… is the absolute guarantee for making something awesome.

The Stealth Did Not Piss Me Off

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-10-47-01 Normally I hate stealth in games, but there is something about this game that simply changing the skins and color palettes immediately makes the default Far Cry 3 engine feel so much better.  I think in part it is because I know that if I perform a take down, I get to see the awesome glowing blue wakizashi slice through the enemy and spill light blue glowing cyber fluid.  Additionally there is a completely broken and overpowered ability to chain a bunch of take downs together by pressing your movement keys in the direction of the next mob in sequence.  So far I have managed to take down 4 at once, but I imagine in later levels this becomes completely ludicrous.  I think mostly my problem with stealth in games is the whole idea of a “bloodless” victory.  I play these games to kill everything that stands, and when a storyline impedes me from doing this… my brain rebels.

The Cut Scenes are Amazing

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 11-00-25-95 Normally I also hate cut scenes of pretty much any kind.  However apparently if you take those cut scenes… make them infused with the spirit of the 80s… and hand drawn…  apparently I love them?  The combination of the arcade game style pixel artwork and cheesy action movie dialog makes the whole experience enjoyable for me.  That seems to really be an undercurrent of this game, “taking things Bel hates and making them enjoyable.”  One of the more humorous moments is when your stereotypical mouthy partner initiates a tutorial sequence moments after dropping you on the island as a way of screwing with you.  So you are forced there to sit through a sequence of tutorial commands… all the while you are yelling at your partner for making you do them.  This is an awesome and irreverent way of making you play through the basic commands so that you know how the game controls.

The Game Is Still Farcry 3

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-58-28-51 Everything about the game is still very much Farcry 3.  You move around the world capturing back positions… but instead of doing so from generic badguys that happen to all wear red bandanas… you are doing it from the Omega Force androids.  I guess at the end of the day it is all about the packaging.  If you have played Farcry 3, you know how the gameplay works.  Capture a base, which opens up side missions, which then leads to the next base to capture.  The key difference everything from Farcry has been taken to eleven.  One of my favorite things is capturing cyber hearts and then using it to lure the Blood Dragons to bases and make them do your work for you.  I mean what is cooler than than giant dinosaurs with glowing neon stripes… that have a plasma cannon breath attack?  While I gave Farcry 3, a colossal score of 3 Mehs out of Meh…  I have to give the Blood Dragon counterpart 5 Kick Asses out of Fucking Awesome.

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-47-07-97 While I have not really made it terribly far into the game at this point, I know this will be one that I return to and play again quite often.  It is the sort of game you need to be in the mood for mindless carnage to be able to enjoy.  At this point I have secured the first base, and started working on some of the side missions.  Every now and then I come home from work, and just need to kill something.  This is the ideal game to reach for, because the objectives pretty much are all “kill all the things”.  There is zero subtlety here, but I am not really that subtle of a person, so it works for me.  Since this is such a nostalgic ride for me, I find it odd how popular it has been among generations of folks who did not live this experience the first time.  Maybe the camp of the 80s is universal and will always appeal.  God save us all.

It’s Okay to Not Like Things

WoW Getting a Gatekeeper

Back in the beginning of January I crafted a post talking about how much I enjoyed The Gatekeeper encounter in The Secret World and how I felt it was a good thing to have in a game.  I extrapolated this further and said that World of Warcraft really needed a similar Gatekeeper mechanic.  At the time they had the proving grounds but they were universally ignored by players.  Based on a post from Watcher on the forums… it seems like Blizzard is thinking along these lines as well.  If I had to build a requirement for queuing for random heroics, I would have said that more than likely it would need Silver or better in the proving grounds in a specific role.  Turns out based on that post, it seems Blizzard was thinking the exact same thing.  Will this usher in a new area of better pugging?  Honestly I am not sure.

The biggest thing that I do like from the statement is that the requirement is apparently completely ignored with a prebuilt group.  This means you will still be able to carry your friends through the heroics to help gear them up.  Those friends will just have to meet the proving grounds on their own if they want to be turned loose out into the wild.  In the grand scheme of things this is just raising the bar on the heroics, but not really doing anything to fix the social causes for me not wanting to queue for them randomly.  Without a “social justice” system similar to that of League of Legends or Final Fantasy XIV people will still be as big of dicks as they are today.  It really is a catch 22…  folks complain that no tanks want to run randoms…  but when you do tank a random people generally treat you like shit.  I decided some time ago that it was a package of frustration I could deal without in my life.

Being Neighborly

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-22 10-08-41-17 I have slowed down greatly in my time spent in Landmark.  I am done with the bulk of the structural work on Belgarde Keep and now have begun some of the fine detail work.  In order to complete this I really need to finish upgrading all of my machines, and that means farming copious amounts of materials.  Namely mind numbingly farming burled wood.  Thankfully since I am on a forest island, I can pretty much just roam around in my “front yard” to find this, but it gets really boring at times.  As a result the bulk of my Landmark playtime is reserved for when I am watching netflix or something similar.  I’ve already begun joining the AoA channel like I talked about yesterday, but for the most part there has been nothing but radio silence.

Last night however I got to meet a person who was new to me.  Zarriya apparently is a longtime member of the Multiplaying community and friends with Zeli, so when she popped on we were both happy to have someone else to talk with as we built away.  Funny thing is, she was not on very long before she wanted to pop by my claim and see the work I had done.  It is wierd how this feels in a game like Landmark.  It almost feels like inviting someone over to your actual house.  I was a good ways off from my homestead so as I ventured back there she started on her way over as well.  This is one of the areas the game really needs improvement.  Firstly the friends list is not working, but even more so… we need an easier way to find each others claims.

I was impressed at how fast she found it off the /loc I gave her, because quite honestly… my brain does not function well on a coordinate grid system.  If I could do like EQ2 and set a waypoint to the coord I would be happy…. actually I don’t know if that is in game or not.  It just feels cool to have visitors in this game, since you have put so much work and effort into building your structures the way you want them.  Right now I am mostly working on the sub basement, which I intend to be a dungeon.  No proper keep can really go without one.  So to start I’ve built a series of equal sized cells.  Now I want to do some more open holding pens, but really to do that I need to gather up a lot of iron.  Still very much enjoying the game, but also really looking forward to having more systems in place.

It’s Okay to Not Like Things

A good friend of mine linked me this video yesterday and it seems relevant lately, with the whole force fed narrative of Wildstar vs Elder Scrolls.  While I like both of the authors of this article, the piece that MMORPG.com ran yesterday just feels like linkbait.  If you are a fan of the MMO genre and want more games to be developed…  we realistically need BOTH to succeed.  There have been so many big name MMO failures over recent years, and even if you do not play the game any longer.. it still hurts to see one close down.  The community is still reeling from the loss of Star Wars Galaxies, and similarly from City of Heroes. Both games had extremely vibrant and devoted communities, and both player bases are still trying to find a new home.

Similarly a certain segment of the population was being happily served by Warhammer Online, and Vanguard will have a similar player base abandoned when it closes down this year.  Losing ANY game is a horrible experience.  I will be honest… I like both Wildstar and The Elder Scrolls Online.  I think they are both interesting games.  The problem is I know for certain that I like one of them enough to pay a subscription fee, and the other one… I am not quite sure about.  As a huge supported of Elder Scrolls, it feels like around every corner is another person trying to… pardon the colloquialism “piss in my cheerios”.  So I do at times get defensive of ESO, because I think it is a really fun game.  That is not to say that that I don’t also begrudgingly enjoy Wildstar quite a bit.

Personally I would love to see both games do well and find their own little niche.  We need successful MMOs that are not named World of Warcraft.  If we don’t then this might be the last round of AAA MMOs we so for awhile, or at least ones that were designed without having a massive cash shop component in them from day one.  I still think the free to play MMO is alive and kicking, but the ones designed from day one to be free to play… feel money grubbing.  They feel like they want to nickel and dime you to death each time you play it.  SWTOR is one of those game I would love to be able to play periodically, but I just cannot stand playing it in their free to play mode.

I just wish I could get players past the tribalism of red versus blue.  I am a carebear at heart, and I just want us all to get along.  After all each of these games is a niche within a niche within a niche.  Gaming as a whole is still a relatively small community, and when we attack each other we only serve to alienate people who might be waiting in the wings considering joining in.  Right now the real decision if I play Wildstar will be based on launch timing.  Right now we have Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls coming out in March, and Elder Scrolls Online in April both of which I am deeply committed to.  I assume Warlords of Draenor will be a Christmas 2014 release since no word of the Friends and Family Alpha has leaked yet.  So if Wilstar releases during one of the lapses… I might give it a shot.

Not So Neighborly Bel

There is a bit of brutal irony in me talking about it feeling good to have a virtual neighborhood in Landmark.  We have lived in the same place for over sixteen years, and at this point we know exactly two neighbors.  I consider myself “on waving terms” with several more, but really we know the family to the south of us, and the family that has been mentioned so many times in other posts that previously lived across the street from us, but now lives about five houses down the block.  For the most part I like it this way.  While it may not come across as such in my posts, I am pretty deeply introverted, so after spending the day dealing with people… I just want to shut the doors and see no one by my wife until the next day.

The funny thing about it is… apparently I am known by my neighbors but not my wife.  In part this comes down to the fact that I get home about 4:30 when lots of other people are pulling into their houses, whereas my wife often times works late and doesn’t get home until 8ish some nights.  A few months back we had a few fires in our neighborhood.  Due to the extreme effect smoke has on me, my wife went out to investigate.  Upon meeting some of our neighbors they asked her if she was “new in the neighborhood”.  They apparently had never seen her and didn’t know she existed.  Maybe it is not normal to live somewhere as long as we have and not know the ins and outs of everyone in the neighborhood.  Thankfully the neighbor I write about so often… keeps track of everything going on and can keep us up to date on the intra-neighborhood politics.  For the most part where we live is a pretty quiet place made up of a mix of aging folks that bought the homes during the 80s, and working class families with young kids.

My brother in law used to have these massive impromptu block parties in his neighborhood, and while it was nice that he knew every single person…  it also felt fairly claustrophobic to me.  For me going to work each day and “acting normal” is extremely draining.  By the time I get home, I simply don’t want to have to care about the other people living around me.  Its awesome that they are there, and  are all relatively nice… but I don’t need to have any more people in my life that I have to interact with regularly.  I am more than happy to cocoon up on the couch with my laptop and a game and forget the people outside my door exist.  The irony is… that I end up playing multiplayer games.  I think the key there is that the interaction with other people is on my terms, and in the quantity that I desire when I desire it.  When someone rings our doorbell, or calls on the phone… it always feels like a horrible invasion of my personal space.  I guess I am just wired oddly.

My Adoration of QuikTrip

Rest In Peace

A few weeks back I had an idea for another regular column of sorts.  The idea was that I would react to things I found on forums.  I had enough fuel for one topic, but that’s where things went off the rails.  It turns out that I really don’t read the various game forums as often as I thought I did, so Friday mornings became a mad dash for me to try and find something that inspired me in any way to write about it.  After spending a few minutes this morning trying to do the same… much like I tried last week…  I have reached the point where I am just filing this one away in the “bad idea” vault.  Essentially the crux of this is in order to make it work I would have to devote more time than I currently have to trolling the forums.

I might make another stab at a feature, because Steampowered Sunday seems to work pretty well.  Admitted it has been a few years since I have frequented the battle.net forums, and similarly with the rift forums as well.  There seems to be a drought of substantive conversation out there, or maybe it really never was and I just applied substance in my head?  I have heard for some time that forums are a dying thing, and by my attempts to find something worth writing about lately…  it would almost seem to be the case.  I am wondering if people have moved on to posting about things on the forums, and instead posting about them on social media or potentially sub reddits.  I would be curious to find out you guys take on this.  I know personally I tend to post things on my morning blogs rather than trying to find a home for them on a game forum.

Community Chest

Trove 2014-02-20 22-17-10-33 Last night I had a fairly spastic night again, but towards the end of the evening I patched up Trove.  Now I have not really followed the subreddit as closely as I once did, but they have been plugging away at this with high frequency.  They seem like they have posted roughly a patch a week, and keep adding more features and polish.  It had been roughly a month since I had last played it, and while Landmark has taken most of my “building game” focus, Trove is still very much an awesome game to play.  I always sell the game as “minecraft with MMO loot” but as a whole the game is so much more than that.  Right now I am loving the focus on the social community of a server, that really does seem like the ultimate win for trion is to make people care about the world.

One of the coolest additions that I saw last night was the community chest.  For some time at the spawn point there has been a giant version of the in game chests, but inside of it now is a storage system.  It allows players to donate items to noobies, and last night I was extremely thankful for this.  I was able to pull a good weapon and a good shield out of the bin and jump straight into doing cool stuff.  Another really cool thing is they added in /randomhead command, which you can see above I now have this really awesome engineer goggles appearance.  This was the first thing to go into game to make abandoning the Fez and Moustache worth it!

Trove 2014-02-21 06-18-35-45 The best quality of life change is the addition of a map.  You can see above that each of the various biomes is now marked.  I have not quite figured out what the red X icons are for, maybe dead bosses?  Your home is marked with a little sign post to make it easier to find it.  Of course this is still very alpha, and there are lots of bugs.  Last night for example I killed six golden beetles… which are now super rare, and not a single one dropped the golden soul.  Golden Souls are now needed to craft the gold torch, which in turn unlocks the ability to craft a robotic workbench opening up a whole new tier of crafting.  That change went in some time ago, but crafting is now a tiered affair where crafting this thing unlocks the ability to purchase another thing.

I spent most of the night playing as Gunslinger because I had not really spent any time leveling that up.  Right now I am level 12 Knight I believe, which gives me a good start each server reset, so I am hoping to bring Gunslinger in line to that same range.  So far I am really enjoying the “rocket jump” ability where the Gunslinger fires at the ground and propels themselves high into the air.  Really great for exploring areas.  Another cool thing are the random quests while out in the world that provide fuel to the star meter shown on the right hand of the screen.  This is something that the entire server works towards, so each boss you beat in the world helps leveling the world as a whole.  Not really sure what happens when the world “dings” but the world I have been playing on has 46 stars.

Trove 2014-02-21 06-26-23-20 Mostly my time spent playing last night has made me realize that I really need to devote more time to this game.  While it is not as mind bending as Landmark, it has so much charm.  Everything about the game, especially the user submitted weapons just drips “fun”.  Especially as the game gets fleshed out, it has started to feel more and more cube world like, which is awesome.  That game was a really great idea that was never really capitalized on.  I might ping the Alliance of Awesome and see just how many of us are in Trove currently.  Would be fun to have a night where we meet up on voice chat and wander about the world looking for mischief.  Saying this is making me realize that I never actually mentioned the AoA before now… I should remedy that.

Alliance of Awesome

The blogosphere and the gaming groups they are associated with is a really twisted up community.  Each of us have been the part of so many different groups that it became super evident with the launch of Landmark that we needed to come up with a way of standardizing some things.  There was a period of time when several of us were joining upwards of seven different social channels, each of them with a different subset of players in them.  I believe it was Scarybooster who first voiced the idea, but from there it spread quickly and the ever amazing Zelibeli became the ideas Champion.  The idea was simple… to create a super alliance of all the different multi-gaming groups that our little community was associated with.  After a few different tries we landed on using a subreddit as our “global forums” of sorts, and as a way for us to post about upcoming events in the various groups.  Also it acts as a nice call to action to figure out what people are doing in the various games.  Another big thing to come out of it is that we decided to start using “AoA” as our global social channel to span the various groups.

One of the challenges we have had in House Stalwart is trying to maintain guilds in each of the games we happen to be playing.  When there is a rush of players it is an amazing thing and we have 50 or so active members.  However after a few months this becomes a skeletal crew, and the question of whether or not it is actually worth keeping up arises.  As it stands right now House Stalwart will focus on World of Warcraft Alliance side, Rift, and The Elder Scrolls.  These will be the only “official” stalwart guilds, and for the rest of the games our members want to play we will be leaning on other AoA member groups to maintain them.  This does two things…firstly it makes my life less spastic for trying to maintain a presense in so many games.  Secondly it opens up so many more worlds to us.  You can just take a look at the right hand side of the subreddit to see which guilds have active groups in which games.  So when folks want to dabble in FFXIV or SWTOR or eventually Wildstar… they have a ready made home they can go to.  While this arrangement is still very much in its infancy… it gives me a lot of hope for the future.

My Adoration of QuikTrip

QuikTripGeneration3Store1I am in love with a gas station station…  and have been since the first time I set foot in one.  One of the things people not from this area find hard to understand, is the love that Tulsans have for the QuikTrip chain of stores.  While I will use other Gas Stations, I will always go to a QuikTrip if one is available even if it is significantly out of the way.  A little over a year ago, a friend of mine moved to town to accept a job at my workplace.  She had heard me talk about QuikTrip but was skeptical, but within weeks of coming to town she was a devoted acolyte.  Quite simply the chain is unlike any other gas station.  Now I have had people sing the praises of Kumandgo, Casey’s, Flying J, PDQ… and many others that I have visited in my travels.  None of them compare to the awesomeness of the QT.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhy do we love it?  Well for starters even in the slummiest parts of town… QuikTrip is clean, well stocked, brightly lit and fully staffed 24/7.  On top of this… they have actual food.  Their breakfast offerings are especially awesome, but pretty much you can go into a QT any time of day and get fresh food that is not a “stomach bomb”.  They have really great donuts and muffins… and if they ever have their limited time Red Velvet Muffins…  you have to try them.  They have a half dozen flavors of Taquito, Country Sausage, Jalepeno Sauage, Buffalo Chicken roller, cheese burger rollers… and fresh steamed buns.  The newer stores have a place in store where they offer made to order food and coffee drinks as well.  My friend Rae pretty much stops by every day to pick up a sandwich for lunch, because they have fresh made sandwiches and wraps.

Another really awesome thing about the chain is that they guarantee their gasoline… and were the first place I can remember doing this.  It was their claim to fame back in the 80s, and has continued on to the current day.  If you ever have a fuel related problem with your car, QuikTrip with pay to fix whatever it is… pending I am sure you can back up receipts of purchasing gas from there.  Still however it is more than almost any other chain can say, and at the very least makes you feel better about purchasing your gas from them.  Admittedly this is a huge chunk of why I always gas up before leaving town in the hopes that the tank of gas will last me until we reach another QuikTrip.  Unfortunately their reach only extends so far, so once you leave the south central united states you have to rely on other chains.

The chain itself has really good cashiers, and the custom software they maintain is designed to be able to ring up I believe up to 16 customers at the same time.  Once I finish writing this blog post, I will go to QuikTrip this morning and get a drink and a jalepeno sausage roll.  I know that I can get in and out extremely quickly because there is a culture of efficiency that has sprung up around the store.  Expected protocol is for there to be two lines at each and every cash register, one to the left and one to the right.  As the QT employee finishes ringing up one, they immediately begin to ring up the next one on the other side, giving the first one time to walk away from the counter.  When this works, it is a thing of beauty… but you can always tell neophytes when they try and form a single line.

I think in part QuikTrip is so successful because they have really good working conditions.  They have managed to make the Fortune magazine top places to work list for 11 years in a row.  In part this is due to their really odd practice of after 25 years with the company, you can take a year paid sabbatical, to do whatever the hell you want to do with it.  This on top of paying significantly better than average wage allows them to keep good employees for the long haul.  It is the type of place that folks either thrive in or they wash out really fast.  As a customer and loyal devotee I really appreciate their attention to detail.  I have long said that I could never live in a city that did not have QuikTrip… so pretty much that leaves me St. Louis Metro, Dallas Metro, and Kansas City Metro.  Granted I am not sure if I would want to be without Taco Bueno, Arbys or Sonic Drive-In either… but the most important one is my beloved QuikTrip.

Corruption of My Youth

Confusing Dialog

2014-02-20 06_18_53-Steam - Error For the last week or so I have been having an odd issue connecting to steam on my desktop.  For random periods of time, steam cannot connect.  However if I wait an hour or so… it connects in just fine.  So far the online wisdom is that this has something to do with bad network drivers, but unfortunately nothing has changed on the system in the time it has occurred.  So right now I am at a complete loss for this intermittent behavior.  Would greatly appreciate any suggestions, especially if some of you have had this issue firing up the steam client… and better yet have found a solution.  At this point my plan is to try and dig up the reference driver for my network card and install that, wondering if maybe a windows patch jacked something up.

The odd thing is, steam only hates me sometimes.  Last night when I could connect I re-downloaded The Secret World and it was coming down at a peak of 10.5 megabytes per second.  It seemed like the download was only being throttled by my disk I/O.  Of note… I am really going to have to manually throttle steam because my system was really mostly unusable when it was downloading that fast.  The hard drive was going through periods of being busied out by it.  Games were completely unplayable during this time, so I am hoping that somewhere in steam there is a maximum speed setting I can ratchet down a bit.  It was nice to download 18 gig in 30 minutes though.

Black Screen Blue Logo

Win8RTM_10_Windows 8 Logo ScreenLast night the wild goose chase in search of bottles continued, and on the way home I had to hit both Michaels and Hobby Lobby to finish getting the last few of them.  So by the time I made it home I was just feeling out of it.  I had a bit of trouble with my gaming desktop, and then a bout of the reoccurring steam issues, and by that time I was just mentally drained.  I found out the hard way that Cyberpower PC, does the same bullshit that every manufacturer does.  Namely tries to put a 350 watt power supply in a PC designed for gaming.  I went to install a new video card, and noticed the size of the power supply, and didn’t even bother getting into the case.  I did however at that point unhook everything.

After connecting everything back up again, I went to boot the machine and it hung indefinitely on the black screen with the blue windows logo.  Thankfully I have a second machine beside this one, and I started furiously googling.  Internet consensus is that something was up with the power supply.  I had literally not doing anything other than unhook things… so after making sure the power cord was seated well a few times I got another idea.  I unhooked absolutely everything from the machine again.  This time only hooking up the monitor, mouse, keyboard, network cable and power cord.  Sure enough it booted up happily… apparently in the processes I had hooked one too many things to a usb jack on the machine and it did not have enough power to boot.

So the power supply issue is not only critical to getting this newer video card installed, but seemingly for day to day usage as well.  I realize it is a numbers game for companies, they try and put the smallest thing in a machine they can get away with.  I just don’t understand however why anyone would put something smaller than a 500W supply in a new machine.  Ultimately like it did me, it will bite the owner in the ass.  Long story short, I have a new Corsair power supply on the way and it should be here on Friday.  So I will be playing the swap power supplies game this weekend.  Generally speaking I like to pull one power supply with all the wires connected, then disconnect the PSU one connector at a time, replacing it with a connecter from the new one.  That way I am certain that nothing gets missed.

All Over the Map

Wow-64 2014-02-19 20-11-13-41 By the time I finally got to where I could start playing games last night… I was like a toddler desperately in need of a nap.  Nothing really seemed right, and in truth I should have just gone on to bed.  I played a little bit of everything last night, but only a few minutes of each.  I mined three or four resource nodes in Landmark, killed Onyxia and did Crown Chemicals in World of Warcraft, fired up Rift long enough to collect the weekly patron gift, played some of “that space game”, and finally spent the most amount of time playing some of “that elder game”.  But like Goldilocks, everything was either too this or too that.  I should have grabbed my 3DS and went to bed playing some Bravely Default.

The highlight of the evening was the fact that I picked up Chicken Tikka Masala on the way home from my errands from our favorite Indian place…  Desi Wok.  Even that just didn’t seem right, and I was only able to finish like half of mine.  Nights like that suck, where you don’t like the world and you are pretty sure that it doesn’t like you either.  Hopefully tonight I won’t have a bunch of running around to do before heading home.  I think that combined with the power supply issues are what put me in that mood.  What sucks is… I knew I was “in a mood” but I didn’t really know what I could do to snap myself back out of it.  I have yet to find my personal slider that allows me to back off on the “pissy” setting.

Corruption of My Youth

I think I have told at least part of this tale, but I never had a chance to “not” be a geek.  One of the cool things about being a teachers kid was that at the end of the school year, we got to rifle through the stuff left in kids lockers.  The janitors would come through and dump everything out into the hall, and if it was not gone by that evening they would come through with a big dumpster and pitch it all.  I felt this was a bit of a consolation prize for being stuck there as my mom cleaned her own room to get ready for summer.  Over the years I found many prizes, but none of them were as life changing for me as stumbling across a Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook.  Mind you this was when I was in first grade, and upon receiving that book I absolutely obsessed about it.  While I didn’t fully understand much of it at the time, I started building games around the things that I found between its covers.

Marvel-Super-Heroes I wanted nothing more than to play a real D&D session… but I grew up deep in the bible belt and the popular consensus was that “D&D” would somehow make you into a mass murderer.  So all through elementary school I collected everything I could get my hands on, but had never really played any of it.  My parents obviously did not care, but the parents of my best friends at the time were absolute bible thumpers.  It was mid way through elementary school that I found another option.  Marvel Super Heroes by TSR was in reality a pretty damned crappy game system, but it was completely benign and with the little paper foldouts made it look like a board game and not something akin to D&D.  I kept all of the dice and such at my house, and for the most part their parents never questioned what they were doing.  I mean funny shaped dice would have been a dead give away… and something worthy of shunning.

penandpaper As I moved into my High School years I found friends with whom we could pretty much play anything… and we did, so many different systems.  While we didn’t really go back and play much D&D other than at conventions…  we did play an absolutely silly amount of the Palladium system.  The above image is a quick picture I snapped this morning of just a small sampling of the various palladium books I have accumulated.  The thing about that system that drew me to it, was the fact that if I or my friends could dream it up… we could find rules to build it.  The Rifts setting at the time completely blew me away, and I played it through most of high school.  Even though I don’t really play much anymore, because I don’t have a local circle of people to play with… I still pick up the books anytime I find them out and about. 

MMOs for the most part have become my new “D&D night”, and it just honestly fits my schedule better.  Occasionally I join in games run by friends over one of the various Google hangout pen and paper mods, but that is about as close as I get to the old tabletop experience these days.  So many of the things I have been into over the years, probably started with finding that first players handbook.  It got me interested in what that was all about, and got me into Time Warp comics for the first time in search of “more”.  It was through this connection that I go into Warhammer, Magic: The Gathering, and so many other geeky things.  While the bible thumpers seemed to think it would steal my soul, more than anything it enflamed my curiosity and creativity.  Pen and Paper games taught me it was completely okay to create my own reality.  That seems like a skill we could use a lot more of.